MEXICO CITY – Homicides in Mexico rose by 16 percent in the first half of 2018, as the country again broke its own records for violence.
The Interior Department said over the weekend there were 15,973 homicides in the first six months of the year, compared to 13,751 killings in the same period of 2017.
The number is the highest since comparable records began being kept in 1997, including the peak year of Mexico's drug war in 2011.
At current levels, the department's measure would put national homicides at 22 per 100,000 population by the end of the year — near the levels of Brazil and Colombia at 27 per 100,000.
Security analyst Alejandro Hope noted "the figures are horrible, but there are some signs that are halfway encouraging."
For example, the growth in homicides seems to be flattening out; murders were up only about 4 percent compared to the second half of 2017. "The curve may be flattening out," Hope noted, though he cautioned it is too early to tell.
Some areas, like the northern border state of Baja California, showed big jumps in murder rates, which others saw sharp drops.
Baja California, home to the border city of Tijuana, saw 1,463 homicides in the first half of the year, a 44 percent increase over the same period of 2017.
Authorities have attributed the spate of killings to battles between the Jalisco and Sinaloa drug cartels for control of trafficking routes in Baja California. The state is now Mexico's second most violent, with a homicide rate for the first six months of the year equivalent to 71 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
By comparison, Honduras and El Salvador — some of the deadliest countries in the world — have homicide rates of around 60 per 100,000.
Mexico's most dangerous state is Colima, on the Pacific coast, which saw a 27-percent rise in killings and now has a homicide rate of about 80 per 100,000. The Jalisco cartel is also active there.
The central state of Guanajuato, home to the colonial city of San Miguel Allende, saw a 122-percent increase in homicides, which were running at a rate of about 40 per 100,000. Authorities say much of the killing is related to gangs of fuel thieves who drill taps into government pipelines.
But in Baja California Sur, home to the resorts like La Paz and Los Cabos, a stepped-up police presence apparently helped reduce killings. The 125 homicides in the state were less than half the number registered in the first six months of 2017 and a quarter the number in the last half of 2017. Extra police and troops were sent in after warring drug gangs increased killings in the state in 2017.
Hope noted that in about half of Mexico's 32 states and the capital, murder rates didn't rise much or at all. "Now the growth is becoming concentrated" in some areas.
It is hard to tell why growth in homicide rates seem to have tapered off in historically violent states like Guerrero, which is home to more than a dozen gangs and is a main growing area for opium poppies.
"The growth in the use of fentanyl could be reducing the harvest of opium poppies, and that could be having an effect" on murder rates, Hope said.
Farmers in Guerrero say prices for opium paste have dropped to unprofitable levels because drug cartels are substituting it for cheaper, easier to obtain synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Still, not all of Mexico's resort areas fared as well as Baja California Sur.
The Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo, home to resorts like Cancun, Tulum and Cozumel, saw homicides rise by 132 percent, to the equivalent of about 35 killings per 100,000.
The state accounts for almost half of Mexico's national tourism income. And Mexico has seen international resorts like Acapulco and Zihuatanejo dragged down by a reputation for violence in the past.
"The can stop it (violence in Quintana Roo), but they have to take care of it very quickly," Hope said.